Invented in Sweden, laminate flooring began showing up in American homes in 1993 by Perstorp Flooring, which makes Pergo. Laminate flooring has always been sturdy, but recently laminate flooring manufacturers have truly begun to capture the look and feel of real hardwood, tile and natural stone. Mid- and high-end laminate flooring feature a more textured look that adds to its realism. The greatest feature about laminate flooring is that you can get the look of a luxurious, exotic wood floor with lots of intricate inlays for a fraction of the cost of the real thing. Many manufacturers have added the look of chestnut, maple, walnut, olive, cherry, hickory, along with more exotic species, to broaden their appeal to a wider range of consumers.
Laminate flooring basically consists of a highly compressed paper liner with a computer-generated photograph of a natural material such as wood, tile or stone. Below the image is a core layer of plywood or high density fiberboard and another protective coating to guard against rising moisture. A backing gives it stability and helps prevent problems like warping.
Laminate flooring will not contract or expand with changes in temperature and humidity as solid
The photo layer is covered by a transparent polymer resin that's 10 times thicker than the coating on laminate counter tops. Once it dries, it forms a hard-as-nails surface wear layer able to withstand such things as high heels and acetone nail polish remover. Plus, it is easy to care for - just sweep and mop it with vinegar and water or a no-rinse cleaner. You never have to wax or polish, or refinish it. Laminate flooring typically is warranted for 15 years against wearing out, fading from sunlight and staining.
One of the drawbacks of laminate floors is the fact that while it looks like hardwood, it often doesn't feel like hardwood. Laminate floors are sometimes installed with a foam pad underneath to absorb some of the hollow sound, but it doesn't always work. It is different from the sound produced by wood, tile or stone. Another issue is wear and tear. Unlike a traditional hardwood flooring that can be refinished if worn down or repaired if there's a gouge, laminate floors do not repair very easily. The wear layer is pretty tough, and it will take a lot of abuse, but once that layer is worn down or is damaged, there is no wood there to fix or refinish. You have to replace the floor.
A laminate floor is called a “floating” floor, because it's not attached to the surface beneath it. An underlayment of foam or some other material is laid over the existing floor to serve as a moisture barrier and sound deadener, and sections of laminate are placed on top of the underlayment. Usually the sections are glued together but mechanical locking, or glue less, laminate floors are becoming more popular. Laminate floors with click-together joints and pre-applied glue offer more protection against moisture and gapping.
The installation isn't difficult for a skilled do-it-yourselfer, but it is not recommended as a first project. A small, square room isn't too challenging, but large areas and rooms with lots of angles and door casings are best left to a pro. It is recommended that you choose an installer who has experience in laminate flooring. Since the success of the floor is largely due to its installation, it is worth having the job done right.